How to Release the Burden of Self-Focus: Gazing at Jesus

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“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1

Are you burdened by a yoke of slavery?

So many of us are heavily enslaved. In fact, Paul makes it clear that we are all slaves. You are either a slave to righteousness or a slave to the flesh.

In many people’s minds, being a slave of righteousness basically translates to an anxiety-riddled life, full of empty religious duties, constant fault-finding in yourself, and lives heavily burdened by human-imposed rules.

But, surely, this is not the path to righteousness. There ought to be a way to free our minds from guilt and shame and to set us free to genuinely love Christ and follow His commandments out of that love for Him.

And, praise God–there is!

In Matthew 11:29-30, Jesus paradoxically reveals the freedom of being enslaved to righteousness: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus does indeed tell us to learn righteousness from Him, but it is only after laying our burdens of our own conceptions of righteousness and finding the freedom of simply hearing His words, trusting, and obeying. Instead of constantly analyzing your actions, let His grace sustain you and constantly push you forward into grateful acceptance of His love and eager desire for more of Himself.

After all, what kind of righteousness do we desire to seek? Is it the kind that gives glory to ourselves or glory to God?

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:33

So many people seem to seek first their own righteousness, failing to trust in the righteousness only given when we simply behold the glory of the Lord.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18

I can testify to the truth of this verse. It isn’t merely a beautiful passage, it’s a practical reality. When I remember to behold Christ in all His righteousness, holiness, kindness, and beauty, I unconsciously reflect what I behold. Christ is large in my life, and everything else looks dim in comparison. His power far surpasses any problems I face. His freedom sets me free from every chain that held me so strongly before. His love is all I know, and it is all I radiate to the rest of the world.

Beholding. Trusting. Abiding. Resting.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2

The Bible urges us to gaze upon Him, just as Peter gazed at Him as he walked towards his Rabbi on the water. This is the ultimate act of trust, to simply look at Jesus. I believe it goes along with what Jesus is talking about when He commands us to abide in Him.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:4-5 (ESV)

Abiding in Jesus requires the eyes of your heart to be united with the character of Christ, just as fixing your eyes on Him brings a fellowship of loving who He is and becoming who He is all at once.

In fact, I truly think looking, trusting, and abiding in Jesus is what Hebrews is talking about when the author urges us to “strive to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11 ESV). In Hebrews the author reveals that the way to enter the rest of God, is by believing. There’s no other way. Non-belief keeps you from experiencing the freedom that God promised us in Christ Jesus. It kept the Israelites from the promised land, and it keeps us from a beautiful fellowship with God. All God wants to do is shower His love on us, but we simply refuse to accept it, thinking it must be too good to be true.

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the power of sin can be put to death, and we can have victory and freedom in a relationship with Jesus. In fact, the Bible says we can be “more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

Trying to take control of your religious life demonstrates that you do not believe that victory is found through Jesus alone. That’s like a thief or a robber trying to climb over the fence instead of going through the gate—that is, Jesus, the good Shepherd (see John 10). Only Jesus provides the “new and living way” by tearing apart the veil so we can enter the presence of God (Hebrews 10:20).

Trying to be in control of following God looks so good on the outside – you’re doing all the right things, you’re being generous and kind and dutiful – but in reality it’s being a slave to the fleshly desire of pride. Because if you have your hands all over everything, that means your eyes are all over yourself.

As an illustration of what I mean, this summer as I entered a discipleship program, I was very excited to grow in my faith in God. Or, perhaps, a better word would be earnest. Later on, God revealed to me that I was idolizing my growth. I was more focused on my growth than on Him. He showed me that the most important thing is to be with Him, and to enjoy Him in the present moment. He’ll take care of the growth part (see Philippians 2:13). Our job is simply to listen, trust, and obey.

If we try to follow what we think is right while staring at ourselves the whole way—even if in fact the action we are doing is what Jesus commanded us—are hidden motive is to bring glory to ourselves. But if we gaze at Jesus and in our wonder and love for Him find ourselves running after Him and enduring the race just as He endured the cross—our attentions are totally absorbed in Christ and are motives are entirely to bring glory to Him.

So how do you get out of self-focus and into freedom in your walk with Christ?

My simple answer: stop focusing on yourself.

My less-simple answer is: behold the glory of the Lord and have a soft heart to the changes He wants to make inside you.

“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” – Psalm 51:2

Ask God to restore the joy of the salvation He has given you in Jesus Christ. It is all too easy to give into complacency about the miraculous gift of eternal life we have received! Once this joy has restored your mental health into fullness of life, ask Him for a willing spirit to naturally pull you through in your excitement and love for Jesus to obey His commands and give Him glory.

Following Jesus is the greatest joy. He sets you free from the yoke of slavery, which is often simply the burden of self-focus. He leads you into the freedom of self-denial, the peace of walking with Him, and the hope anchored in your soul for the future glory in heaven that far outweighs your present suffering.

So, forget about yourself and start looking at Him in all His glory and majesty and splendor. He is far too wonderful for you to waste your time getting your hands all over your life. Let Him take control. Let His beauty overwhelm you.

“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” – Hebrews 13:15 (ESV)

He is so good! Rejoice continually at the salvation He has given you through Christ Jesus. Magnify His name, for He is awesome and powerful!

In the words of Paul: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Widen your eyes at His breathtaking-ness, and sing for joy at the tender, personal love of the Father. Turn you wailing into dancing! Salvation has come, justifying yourself completely so you do not need to focus on yourself anymore.

People are desperate for the true sacrificial love you of few people have experienced. Strive to enter the rest of God. Let His love flow through you into the lives of others, and you will never be the same again.

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